Saturday, May 12, 2012

Hush - Hush Lasagna (or Lasagne)

I'm a huge advocate of the "get-em-while-they're-young" health and nutrition approach - get kids interested in, cooking and eating good, wholesome foods from the very start and they're more likely to continue that behaviour throughout the rest of their lives. It works, when parents and other adults are on board and stay away from the "you won't like this, it's ______" mentality, I saw it in action at the Boys and Girls Club when we would do our cooking sessions. We didn't have a luxury of a garden or a trip to the farmer's market, but you could tell that the youngsters - especially the 5-10 year olds - wanted to be a part of what they were eating, even if it was packed full of veggies and whole grains.

However, I know that most families out there are not blessed enough to have the time and patience to make mini whole-fooders out of their toddlers, especially those of us in the suburbs where the only groceries come from the two area supermarkets, mom and dad leave for work in the city at 7 AM and don't get home until 7 PM, and the only outside play areas within nearby walking distance are over-safetied school playgrounds that no kid from my generation would ever call a park.

Times have definitely changed from a short decade or two ago, where dinner was what Mom put on the table and you either ate it or you went to bed hungry - picky eaters needed not apply. Unfortunately, my sister was part of the fledgling "picky eater" generation, refusing most vegetables (except frozen peas), cycling between only bananas, only green grapes and only apples when mom could get them into her at all, and in her late childhood settling into a steady "beige" diet. Breakfast consisted of chocolate chip, margarine and pancake syrup-laden frozen waffles or pancakes, Wonder bread with Nutella or occasionally cinnamon raisin French toast, lunch was usually a few pizza pockets (or skipped altogether since during school breaks breakfast was at noon or later!), and dinner - when mom didn't want to fight her on the meal - was either a full box of mac and cheese or pasta with margarine, ketchup and parmesan with a side of chicken nuggets.

She still eats like this - more often than not skipping breakfast in favour of a "brunch" and generally avoiding produce. But I keep trying. When she came home for the Summer after her second year in college (second year? How the heck did that happen?) she brought with her both a taste for whole wheat bread and something else just as unexpected - lasagna. This was the child who, until she was 11, insisted on a divided plate so that her food wouldn't touch... and now here this young woman was talking about a casserole of noodles, cheeses and spaghetti sauce (coincidentally, another food she abhorred as a kid). Having conquered the task of making a whole wheat cinnamon raisin bread she liked, I figured it was time to take a look at this new dinner option. She told me back in the beginning that the only thing she didn't like about her school's lasagna was the chunky sauce, so I knew the food processor would be at work for this one. The fact I'd be pureeing the sauce anyway also left the door wide open for the amount of stuff I could throw into it without her knowing! While I don't usually recommend the "sneak" tactic for feeding veggies to kids, sometimes it's the only way to get those nutrients in.

I settled on grating onion, carrot, bell pepper and zucchini into a plain tomato base, and jazzing it up just slightly with a pinch of dried basil and the last of our vegan Parmesan cheese. While it simmered away, I boiled up some "Smart" lasagna noodles, shredded some light Mozzarella and beat up a low-fat cottage cheese and egg filling. Then, since simplicity and portion control was the name of the game, I made "lasagnettes" in mini casseroles that she could freeze and reheat when needed (she's working out in Guelph this Summer and having a nutritious, convenient dinner ready at her apartment is a plus). I kept my fingers crossed the first night she ate it... and she ate it! Not only that, but she enjoyed it - and I was barely able to hide my smirk at my success.

Passing this along to Presto Pasta Nights (hosted this week by Alisha of Cook. Craft. Enjoy.)

Hush - Hush Lasagna (or Lasagne)
Makes 6 individual casseroles (or one 9x5 loaf pan)

1/4 large sweet onion
1 large zucchini
1 large red bell pepper
1 large carrot
1 tsp olive oil
1 1/2 cups no-salt-added plain tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp vegan parmesan cheese (or low-fat regular parmesan cheese)
pinch dried basil
pinch sea salt
1/2 tsp lemon juice
The Rest
1 cup 1% cottage cheese
1 egg
8 "Smart" or white whole wheat lasagne noodles, cooked, drained and cut into thirds
150 g (about 5.3 oz) low fat Mozzarella cheese
  1. In a food processor, finely grate the onion, zucchini, pepper and carrot.
  2. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and add the shredded vegetables.
  3. Cook, stirring often, for 5-6 minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften.
  4. Pour in the tomato sauce and water, then add the ketchup, parmesan, basil and salt.
  5. Reduce heat, partially cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 40 minutes. The vegetables should be extremely soft.
  6. Transfer mixture to the food processor (no need to clean), add the lemon juice, and puree until smooth. Set aside.
  7. In a bowl beat together the cottage cheese and the egg until well combined.
  8. Preheat the oven to 375F and grease 6 individual casseroles.
  9. Place layers of sauce, noodles, cottage cheese, sauce, mozzarella, noodles, sauce, etc in each vessel, finishing with a sprinkle of mozzarella.
  10. Place vessels on a baking sheet and cover with foil.
  11. Bake, covered, for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake a further 10-15 minutes, until browned and bubbly.
  12. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 257.0
Total Fat: 6.9 g
Cholesterol: 46.8 mg
Sodium: 377.5 mg
Total Carbs: 33.9 g
Dietary Fiber: 6.4 g
Protein: 18.2 g


  1. Great post! And I thank whoever created the immersion blender and the food processor so I could "hide" vegetables in so many dishes. The lasagna looks wonderful. Thanks for sharing with Presto Pasta Night.

  2. I agree with Ruth, what a wonderful post! I, too, have had picky eaters that turn into food lovers and it's always a wonderful feeling when they do. Thanks so much for sharing with us!


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